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Ecosanctuary celebrates historic moment with first tuatara hatchlings

Photo credit: Alison Cree

Ecosanctuary celebrates historic moment with first tuatara hatchlings

Orokonui Ecosanctuary in Dunedin celebrated a big milestone this week: discovering their first tuatara hatchlings. 

Ecosanctuary celebrates historic moment with first tuatara hatchlings

The hatchlings are the first to be seen since adult tuatara were released in the sanctuary in 2012.

While tuatara hatchlings have been reported in North Island ecosanctuaries, these hatchlings may be the first to hatch as part of a viable tuatara population in the South Island hundreds of years.

The hatchlings were discovered under some small roofing material by Jade Christiansen, a student at the University of Otago.

“My hands were shaking,” Ms Christiansen says. “I was very nervous, yet very excited. The hatchlings can be surprisingly lively. One of them still had its horny ‘shell-breaker’ – a projection on the tip of its snout – so I knew it had hatched recently.”

Masters student Kemina Gardiner-Rodden, who had been monitoring the nest for over a year, says it is likely the hatchlings are female due to the long duration of incubation and cool soil temperatures. The temperature of the nest is known to determine the sex of tuatara embryos.

Empty eggshells in the nest suggest there may be more hatchlings. An average-sized female tuatara lays about nine eggs in a clutch.

Orokonui Ecosanctuary’s Conservation Manager Elton Smith says this discovery is yet another significant biodiversity outcome for the sanctuary.

“This success can be directly attributed to our fence that excludes all introduced mammals (other than perhaps mice) that would otherwise predate upon the tuatara,” says Mr Smith.

Orokonui Ecosanctuary is currently closed due to Covid-19 but staff are still carrying out essential tasks.

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